Interior Minister Eli Yishai has begun to make good on a pledge to exploit all the resources of his ministry, "its branches and its influences over local government" to expand settlements in the territories.
Yishai, who is also chairman of Shas, made the promise last Thursday to the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements. His party is concerned by the freeze on construction that has been in effect since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office, which Yishai said is "drying out" the settlements.
Haaretz has learned that Yishai has instructed officials at the Interior Ministry to come up with ways to help the settlers, by allowing continued construction within the major West Bank settlement blocs where building has stopped as a result of American pressure.
Yishai wants to include additional built-up areas within the city limits of towns in the major settlement blocs, effectively expanding those cities' boundaries. Adjustment of the city limits, which is within the purview of the Interior Ministry, can mean the addition of several square kilometers to a locale's jurisdiction - or the subtraction of said amount of land.
Yishai thus plans to ensure that city limits will be calculated in as liberal a way as possible, so that construction can eventually take place in the few additional square kilometers, to accommodate the "natural increase" of the population.
In addition, Yishai is hoping to allocate funding from the "interior minister's reserves" to benefit settlements in the West Bank. These funds, amounting to several tens of millions of shekels, are distributed at the discretion of the minister without having to meet certain usual criteria.
The heads of the Yesha Council said they had the impression from their meeting with Yishai that the minister intended to allocate funding to the settlements from the ministerial reserves to "correct the existing distortion."
Yishai also plans to change the law mandating special funding for outlying communities, which at present discriminates against the West Bank settlements, in his view. He said he wants to ensure that the law will help the peripheral areas, but will also be altered so as not to be biased.
"Settlements in Judea and Samaria have suffered for many years from various forms of discrimination and distortion. I do not intend to examine the reason or figure out who was responsible for this. I intend to correct the situation. I believe that we do not have to be on a collision course with the Americans," said Yishai. "There were understandings with previous administrations in the United States that allowed us to build in keeping with the natural increase and certainly within the limits of the settlements."
He added that, "any steps the United States intends to take in the Middle East will have to be equitable. It is not right to start to enforce the issue of construction and not to make it equitable."
Yishai was careful not to criticize Netanyahu directly. Rather, he aimed his barbs at the U.S. administration while promoting an independent ministerial policy that benefits West Bank settlement.